Sphero’s R2-D2 follows (or perhaps trundles) in BB–8’s footsteps, giving you a dinky, app-controlled take on the true hero of the Star Wars saga, who never gets the credit he deserves.
Sure, Luke had a hand in duffing up the Empire, but who got the Death Star schematics where they needed to go? Who takes a laser from Vader’s TIE Fighter, to keep Luke’s X-wing on track? Who helps the Falcon escape in Empire Strikes Back? Not farm boy, that’s for sure.
And now here’s an Artoo you can use for equally important missions, like scaring the cat, and distracting you from important deadlines.
But is the Force strong in this one? Let’s find out…
Design and build: Plastic fantastic
Out of the box, Artoo looks the part. This isn’t a display piece – the unit is plasticky, and nothing to concern anyone hawking sculptures at Forbidden Planet. But it’s solid and has an authentic sculpt.
The unit’s size feels good, too – imagine a large potato with legs, if that doesn’t send you screaming from the kitchen. Too much smaller and you’re in Christmas cracker territory; but if anything, I was happier Artoo isn’t an unwieldy dustbin.
He's a bit more rugged than he looks too. Despite initial concerns about durability, he was fine after several tumbles from a table at Stuff HQ. That did mark the end of his table-based adventures though, with the floor proving a more sensible starting point for L-plate drivers.
Getting started: very appy
Setting up Artoo is easy. Fire up the 'Droids by Sphero' app on your smartphone, tap R2-D2 (assuming he’s charged), and you’re good to go. The first time I did this, the entire process, including the app finding Artoo, took under a minute. Subsequent connections took just a few seconds.
A strip of icons then provides fast access to modes – Droid Control; Patrol; Draw and Drive; Watch With Me; AR – and settings. Top tip: lowering the max drive speed is a good idea, if you’re short on space.
The app’s design warrants a mention, too. It could have been a bare-bones workmanlike affair, but instead has pleasingly Star Wars lo-fi tech visuals, electronic background murmurs, and sporadic snippets of soundtrack. Scroll down to see it in action.
Remote control: Pay attention to what you’re doing!
There are two distinct remote control options. Droid Control has a virtual stick alongside icons for triggering canned performances. Draw and Drive has you scribble a path on the screen.
You’d perhaps presume the latter mode is more suited to touchscreens, but I found it twitchy. Even shortish lines with the grid zoomed in sent Artoo speeding across large distances. By contrast, Droid Control is nuanced – if very much in traditional ‘remote control toy’ territory.
But traditional isn’t a bad thing. The stick’s responsive, Artoo doing the Droid equivalent of a handbrake turn when it’s wrenched in the opposite direction. And the performances offer superb movement and audio that comes straight from the movies.
Plus if Artoo misbehaves too often, you can zap the little sod and have him shriek and faceplant.